Cascade Canyon - September 2020


Well-Known Member
Cascade Canyon
September 3, 2020
Lake surface elevation 3599’

After a cursory breakfast, three of us leave Khawer behind in order to go check out Cascade Canyon, maybe 12 miles up the lake from our camp in Friendship Cove. It’s a place where I had been only a month before, except the water level was about 7 feet higher. At that time, there was a shallow landing, not suitable for a skiboat, but it could be waded to the end, where a hike was possible. Except that I didn’t really hike very far at the time. What was I thinking?

Cascade is a hidden gem. Few visit the canyon, because it really doesn’t have any obvious landing spot along the way, and while it’s narrow, it is not unusual by Lake Powell standards, at least from where a boat can access the canyon. Near the end, a large boulder partially blocks passage, and a month ago this could be easily bypassed. I wondered if this was still true as Chuck took the helm, trolling slowly toward the boulder. It was a relief to find it could still be bypassed, again on the left, although plenty of jagged boulders lay just beneath the surface, ready to pierce the unsuspecting hull of some yahoo blazing around the bend. Two or three turns later, the lake ended in a small mudflat, and it was easy to anchor right there. Compared to a month ago, the lake ended about 500 feet sooner. A large sandbar up ahead that was underwater in early August was now fully exposed.

The hike began in a field of mud, through which a small spring-fed stream flowed. But this muck and ooze only lasted a few hundred feet, and soon gave way to a narrow but dry canyon, sometimes smooth walking, but occasionally punctuated by rockfalls up to 10 feet or so that required a little skill to climb past. The canyon twisted and turned, no more than 10 or 20 feet wide, but often less, towering red walls that you might see elsewhere in the region or even elsewhere on the lake. This canyon bears a passing resemblance to its nearby cousin Driftwood Canyon, except that it seems easier to go farther in Cascade.

It is supremely pretty, quiet, peaceful, and here we are alone. There are older footprints in the dried mud and sand, and a whole lot of them, which is surprising considering that I’ll guess no one has been up here in days if not longer. Each rockfall or giant boulder obstacle presents a challenge, sometimes a real puzzle, but there are usually multiple solutions to the same problem. Chimney, or stem, or sometimes just a good handhold and brute arm strength. Or in a few cases, bypass on a slanted sandstone bench to the right or left. But no ropes were required for any of these, although they might have been helpful. Upper body strength made a decent substitute.

Many times we joked about Aron Ralston, who lost an arm in a canyon with these kinds of obstacles. For him, the problem was that one of these boulders shifted while he was downclimbing. Arm stuck. For us, what we lacked in real rock climbing skill we made up for with inexperience. But at least we were careful, testing each rock before moving on. And so on we went, perhaps an hour of walking, although no more than a mile or 2 at most, since we were walking carefully over uneven terrain, with a lot of stopping to consider the options.

This is not a hike to take if you’re not prepared to use your body in tough little upclimbs around or over boulders. But it is fun if you are prepared, and for us it was a great experience. Finally, one big boulder, maybe 15 feet high, overhung the trail, not far beyond a final fork in the road, the main one being to the right. In wetter times there would have also been a 5 foot deep pool at the base of the huge boulder, but today it was just empty, all but for some mud shavings and a sad surprise: a small greenish bird, dead. Maybe a Wilson’s Warbler. Couldn’t have been that long ago. Chuck took the dead bird as a sign. If it couldn’t climb the rocks, perhaps neither should we.

We returned, satisfied with a great hike, a new experience here. On the 1-5 scale of hiking, Chuck declared it a 2-star hike. He says he needs to accumulate 10 before the end of the trip. Stars are assigned for several reasons—hike length, lack of shade, excess heat, difficult terrain, or a brutal climb. Extra points are given for injuries. In Cascade, there was difficult terrain, but it was shady and cool, not excessively long, and no massive climb. But Chuck drew blood at some point, so in the end, it rated a 2 out 5 for difficulty. But 5 out of 5 for beauty.

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